Today the world is experiencing a longevity revolution. Humans are living longer than ever before, some say we will live at least 34 years longer than our grandparents. As actress Jane Fonda points out that is like living a second adult lifetime. These added years of life create what Jane calls Life’s Third Act. Along classic terms of aging people view life as an arch with the peak of our life being around mid-life and then everything slowly decaying as we age. But Jane has chosen to view aging differently as more of an upward staircase. She feels, now at the age of 75, that she is the happiest she has ever been. As Picasso once said “it takes a long time to become young.”
Jane gives an example of a man who she feels exemplifies the meaning of Life’s Third Act. Neil Selinger was a retired lawyer who found himself in an unlikely way. When he retired he joined the writing club at Sarah Lawrence, two years later he developed ALS. ALS is a horrible disease commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This disease makes your body waste away as your muscles are slowly destroyed, except for your brain which is left completely untouched. Neil said the following about what he discovered through ALS, “as my muscles weaken my writing became strong, as I slowly lost my speech I gained my voice, as I diminished I grew, as I lost so much I finally started to find myself.” Neil did not live life as an arch, even though his body slowly failed his mind flourished allowing him to continue climbing the staircase.
One of the fundamental laws of the universe is entropy which states that everything will eventually reach a state of decline. We will all grow older however as Jane points out, the human spirit is the only exception to the law of entropy. The human spirit does not have to decline, as Victor Frankel a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp once said “everything you have in life can be taken from you except your freedom to choose how you will respond to a situation.” Everyone is born with human spirit but over the course of our lives that spirit gets stamped on, causing many to feel unfinished when they get older. Jane proposes that perhaps the point of the life’s third act is to focus on finishing ourselves. By reviewing our experiences from the past we can find new meaning and clarity. In her talk Jane shows that getting old is not a bad thing, it is a necessary stage of life that allows us to truly understand our experiences and live our last act to the fullest.